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Consequence Management: Steps in the Right Direction?

September 8, 2010

As demonstrated by disasters such as the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill, unforeseen events within U.S. borders can pose threats to national security. And even with U.S. military forces overwhelmingly focused on operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Department of Defense (DoD) is expected to respond to such national emergencies. It is inevitable that local responders will, at times, require federal support.

Yet the U.S. government’s efforts to develop a comprehensive response plan have been painfully slow. The issue is complex, with response efforts crossing local, state and federal jurisdictions to involve interagency partners at all levels of government. Finding answers to the questions about interaction between the responders and those accountable at the most senior levels of government is as fundamental as it is urgent: Who has jurisdictional responsibility? Who has fiscal responsibility? Who has the responsibility to coordinate the variety of responders and who is in charge of them? To answer these questions, the process must begin with an examination of each threat as it arises and how the government plans to respond.

The 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses the need to strengthen reactive capacity for managing the potential range of threats and hazards, which include terrorism, natural disasters, large-scale cyber attacks and pandemics.1 While prevention and deterrence remain the ultimate strategy, it is clear that mitigation of these disasters will also be necessary at times. Thus one facet of the 2010 NSS calls for the ability to effectively manage emergencies: the need to build capacity to respond to major national incidents with the greatest possible speed and agility. This includes collaboration throughout all levels of government, within communities and within public-private partnerships, as well as adequate investment in equipment and operational capabilities.

The 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses the need to strengthen reactive capacity for managing the potential range of threats and hazards, which include terrorism, natural disasters, large-scale cyber attacks and pandemics.1 While prevention and deterrence remain the ultimate strategy, it is clear that mitigation of these disasters will also be necessary at times. Thus one facet of the 2010 NSS calls for the ability to effectively manage emergencies: the need to build capacity to respond to major national incidents with the greatest possible speed and agility. This includes collaboration throughout all levels of government, within communities and within public-private partnerships, as well as adequate investment in equipment and operational capabilities.

To confront these security challenges, DoD, as stated in the 2010 QDR, intends to reorganize its domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) consequence management enterprise. As part of this initiative, DoD has been working to create homeland response forces (HRFs) tailored to deal with CBRNE incidents. These plans align with the Army’s focus on building forces capable of performing full-spectrum operations that range from tactical nuclear war and regional conventional conflict to operations of domestic disaster relief and domestic civil support. Within this context, multiple approaches are possible.